The outdoors and improving mental health in 2020…
In this blog post I am going to continue on in a similar tone to the last. This time I want to write about mental health, as this topic seems to be as prominent in the news and media this last week or so than ever before. For me there are two aspects that are incredibly closely related – mental health and the outdoors, and so using my own experience I’m going to talk a bit about that connection.
Mental health and the outdoors have always been so closely linked and related. There is no doubt that being active in the outdoors has an incredibly positive effect on a person’s well-being and mental health. I have experienced this first hand in my own life, and so I know the benefits and the impact that the outdoors can have on someone. There are so many aspects at play here.
Firstly, lets mention this. The outdoors is completely FREE. It is open to everyone. It doesn’t discriminate against race or social class. You can be rich, and you can be poor. The outdoors is free, so it doesn’t care! You can enjoy the outdoors no matter who you are and where you come from. So, go out and take what is rightfully yours, what is all of ours! The outdoors belongs to us all.
We have amazing landscapes and incredible national parks here in the UK. Yes, to do certain activities or to climb certain peaks you need a certain level of skill and experience, along with the right clothing and equipment, but you don’t need to do a winter ascent of Ben Nevis to enjoy and feel the benefits of the outdoors. When it comes to mental health it isn’t just about the ‘what’, although having a goal, a certain peak or certain challenge you want to complete can produce an amazing feeling and a big endorphin release when you achieve it, it is also just about being outdoors. It is about feeling the fresh air, it is about having time and space to get away from the hectic world so many of us live in. It is simply stripping away the stresses and confinements of life in 2020. I find that when I am out walking (which is the activity I enjoy the most), I find that all I have to worry about is putting one front in front of the other. It sounds simple and ultimately it is. For however long I am out walking, all I have to think about is walking. Everything else takes a back seat. This alone doesn’t necessarily fix whatever it is you might be struggling with at the time in your own life, but the point is that it allows you to come back to it refreshed, and often with a clearer picture or understanding of the issue. This in turn allows you to tackle the issue with a renewed sense of determination or from a new perspective. Allowing yourself this time away, time in nature and the outdoors, time spent surrounded by an incredible and beautiful landscape, with no or limited technology, and time spent with other like-minded people, is more often than not a very powerful resource.
One of the most important and key aspects for me is about meeting people, which leads me on to my next point. I can talk from personal experience – and I’m going to make a bold generalised statement here and that is that the outdoors community is the nicest group of people we have in society. I have never been on a walk, a climbing trip or any other outdoors adventure with a group who haven’t been outright lovely! I will go on to say that some of my best friends are people who also love the outdoors and who I have met through our shared love and passion for it. These people have become the people I often reach out to if I ever need to chat to someone, or get advice on something. The outdoors community is like no other. Everyone I have met has been incredibly friendly, super supportive and fantastic company to be with. Whether it is a multi-day trek like I did in the Himalayas, or simply a day trip. There is nothing better than joining an outdoors group (of any sort) and being surrounded by like-minded people.
When I have been out walking, I have always found myself opening up and chatting about sometimes quite personal topics to complete strangers and I’ve also had them doing the same in return! There is something about the outdoors and being in nature that really makes us connect, not just with the landscape and world around us but with the people we are sharing that with. It creates an environment where talking about these subjects and these issues is more than just OK. In my opinion, when you are in the middle of nowhere, sitting on a boulder or on the bank of a river or whatever it might be, a hot flask of tea in hand, you find yourself feeling totally comfortable opening up about topics that you perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise found the courage to do so. There is something about this situation that just makes us feel that we can talk, openly and freely, safe in the knowledge that people aren’t going to laugh, or judge. The fact that the people you are with in these situations are always so approachable, considerate and caring is a massive factor in this. The kind of people who love the outdoors are genuinely the kind of people who care. They care about the world, they care about nature, about animals, the environment and also people. Finding the outdoors, finding the outdoor community has undoubtedly helped me through very difficult times of my own, without question!
The joy from being in the middle of nowhere simply just walking can’t be beaten in my opinion!
Enjoying the outdoors together can help to reduce and breakdown conversation barriers found in everyday life
Throughout my twenties I have had struggles with mental health. Career, finances, relationships and my dating life have all be contributing factors in their own ways at certain points. I have had incredibly low points during these years. However, there are a number of factors to why someone can struggle with mental health, we all have our reasons and there is no right or wrong. There is no need to feel ashamed about the ‘why’. We have to remember that every single one of us has our own perfectly legitimate worries and struggles. Everyone! I am entirely confident that there isn’t a single person in this world who hasn’t at some point had a mental health struggle, but what I know from my own personal experience is that there is an extremely powerful means, an incredibly powerful world out there to help towards combatting those issues – and that is spending time in the outdoors world. Like I said, this doesn’t need to be climbing Ben Nevis or Snowdon, or even any other significant peak in the UK or abroad. It can be something as simple as deciding to walk or cycle a particular journey instead of driving or getting the tube. It can be a walk around a local nature reserve or even a park, or time spent hillwalking and camping out in a national park. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. It is about time away mentally, reconnecting ourselves to nature and the natural world around us, which we have amazing access too. You can do this alone if you want to it doesn’t necessarily have to be in a group or with friends. There are benefits to0 that to for many people, but for me personally the time spent with others, connecting with others in the outdoors is what I enjoy. I became much more involved in the whole outdoor community in my mid-twenties and it doesn’t matter how old you are, or what you are currently doing in life. The outdoors community welcomes everyone. People of all ages, of all shapes and sizes, people from all backgrounds. There is always a way to enjoy and experience the outdoors for everyone single one of us. Every time I put on my walking boots I feel a sense of euphoria, because I know that the day ahead is going to be awesome no matter what.
Nothing like a good, muddy countryside winter walk!
Me enjoying and appreciating the incredible Himalayan views
Photo credit: Marcus Samperi
Meeting new and like-minded people whilst out walking
There are also amazing opportunities to get involved with the outdoors further when (and trust me it is a when and not an if) you fall in love with it. You can attend a course at an outdoors centre, or perhaps you would like to take part in a charity challenge or join an outdoors group. There is walking, climbing, kayaking, paddle boarding and more! There are so many opportunities covering complete beginners to the more experienced and seasoned. OK these will often cost some money – but they are still there to be explored. I have done a few skills courses over the years to improve my knowledge and awareness of the outdoors and they have helped me to challenge myself in new ways. These have helped me to explore new areas with more confidence, or complete and overcome new challenges. They are also a fantastic way to meet other people who are often also just starting out as beginners. When it comes to the outdoors people do not judge. People who love the outdoors, those who work in the outdoors, just want to get other people outdoors, no matter your background or your experience level, to experience all that it has to offer.
There is one thing for certain – that everything associated with the outdoors and nature has an immense impact on improving our mental health. I can guarantee that if you are reading this and are going through a difficult patch then take yourself outdoors for a day, or for a walk after work one evening, or maybe sign up to a walking group, or any outdoor group that takes your fancy. I promise that you will feel a whole lot better for it. Guaranteed. It might even just change your life!
To finish, I mentioned in my last blog the importance of us making more of an effort to look after each other and to support each other more in this increasingly divisive world, and this has never been more important when it comes to the topic of mental health. What I can say, is that where this may not be the case in many walks of life, the outdoors community is not one these. The outdoors community is filled with people who care, with people who look out for one another, it often comes with the territory and nature of the activities involved. People are always looking out for one another, always encouraging and supporting each other along. This is why the outdoors and outdoor groups have never been more crucial and important in tackling mental health. Later this week I am volunteering my photography skills at a two-day conference event run by Explorers Connect, around the topic of mental health and the outdoors. I am looking forward to hearing about and learning from other people’s experiences, stories and hearing their advice.
Going forward this year – let’s all support one another, be there to listen if someone needs you to be, and be there in return for them. Let’s work together as a society to combat the stigma surrounding mental health.